Post-it Notes for Neighbors

Candy Chang is an artist, designer, and urban planner in Helsinki, Finland. She likes to make information more accessible and engaging through design and the creative use of public space. She also likes to improve the ways people share information. At Urban Omnibus, we are way into her work because it makes urban systems and possibilities visible while bringing a much-needed sense of narrative and personality to the all-too-often dry world of wayfinding, data visualization and public information exchange. In the process, she articulates an important field of action for designers of all disciplines. You can check out more of her work here.

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While purging my apartment in a stoop sale extravaganza, I met one of my neighbors for the first time. One year had passed before our paths finally crossed and, in a matter of minutes, she schooled me on the history of our block and how community boards work. What did my other thousand neighbors know? And how could I reach out to all of them?

People within one neighborhood all share a common space, and within this space they share overlapping interests in the same information. Residents are brimming with local knowledge, from the trivial to the empowering. All of these fragments of local information are dispersed amongst a population within a defined area, and many people within this group would benefit from the knowledge and resources of others.

Residents are brimming with local knowledge, from the trivial to the empowering: the best slice of pizza, the nearest place to donate clothes, the latest news on the power outage, the lowdown on yesterday’s community board meeting. All of these fragments of local information are dispersed amongst a population within a defined area, and lots of people would benefit from the knowledge and resources of others.

Without sharing, residents live in an area that functions as little more than a giant hotel of passing strangers.

However, we’re currently limited in our ability to communicate with our collective neighborhood and as a result, this wealth of knowledge remains largely untapped. Without sharing, residents live in an area that functions as little more than a giant hotel of passing strangers. Forums for collective communication can transform neighborhoods into extensive information networks. “The denser such networks in a community,” says Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, “the more likely that its citizens will be able to cooperate for mutual benefit.” Empowerment from within!

It’s hard not to spot a flyer while walking around New York City. People post their messages in the interstitial spaces of the City, and lampposts have become unofficial billboards for local communication.

In a built environment where citizens' flyers are illegal yet businesses can shout about their latest products on an increasing number of public surfaces, we should consider whether public space can be better designed so that it is not necessarily allocated to the highest bidder but instead, reflects and facilitates the needs of communities.

But citizens’ flyers are illegal while businesses can shout about their latest products on an increasing number of public surfaces. Makes you think whether public space can be better designed so that it’s not necessarily allocated to the highest bidder but instead reflects and facilitates the needs of communities.

Now it's time to get more critical on how those sidewalks can be used and improved.

So it’s time to get more critical of how public space can be used and improved. For one, how can our public spaces be better places for sharing information? How can we harness the collective knowledge of a neighborhood? Let’s start with a question that’s on every New Yorker’s mind:

Example: It's a question every New Yorker wonders - how much are my neighbors paying for their apartments?

Inspired by Illegal Art’s 2007 To Do installation, where blank Post-it notes covered storefront windows for open responses from passers-by…

Inspired by Illegal Art's 2007 To Do installation, where blank Post-it notes covered storefront windows...

I riffed off that for my public art project I’ve Lived: Post-it Notes for Neighbors which invited local residents and other passers-by to share information about their living situation. It was part of Windows Brooklyn, a week-long exhibition in June 2008 where artists were paired with storefronts in Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill.

Post-it notes were arranged on vintage furniture store Yesterday's News.

Post-it notes were arranged on the window of Yesterday’s News, a vintage furniture store.

Each note was stamped with the same fill-in-the-blank sentence: "I've Lived in _____ for ___ years and it cost(s) _____!"

Each note was stamped with the same fill-in-the-blank sentence: “I’ve Lived in a ___-br apartment in _____ for ___ years now and it cost(s) _____!”

During the week it was up, people could fill out the forms with their own excruciating information.

During the week it was up, people could fill out the forms with their own information…

…and balk at the high and low numbers paid by others.

Here's more shots of people's responses.

By the end of the week, 151 notes (about half) were filled out and the window was transformed into a useful collection of personal notes created by and relevant to the community. 52 responses came from people living in one-bedroom apartments in Carroll Gardens, where monthly rent ranged from $350 to $2700. The winner of Cheapest Apartment goes to someone living in a studio in Carroll Gardens for 43 years that costs $146! And the Most Expensive Award goes to someone in a four-bedroom in Cobble Hill for 4 years that costs $3,720.

A woman named Deborah bought 3 homes in Bed Stuy from 1988-2003 and never paid more than $250,000. They put her two sons through college and will allow her to retire early. “Like they say,” she said, “they’re not making any more of it. Get yourself some real estate!”

Brooklyn resident Deborah bought 3 homes in Bedford Stuyvesant from 1988-2003 and never paid more than $250,000. They put her two sons through college and will allow her to retire early. “Like they say,” she said, “they’re not making any more of it. Get yourself some real estate!”

Here are some graphs of the results. To see more, visit http://www.candychang.com/2008/06/23/post-it-note-results

Here are some graphs of the results. To see more, go here. Of course the final solution is probably not Post-it notes, but it’s a low-budget start. How can we improve the mediums – physical boards, kiosks, websites, mobile applications – for collectively sharing local information? John Thackara, author of In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, says it well: “Design does not take place in a situation; it is the situation. As planners, designers, and citizens, we need to rethink our spaces, places, and communities in order to better exploit the dynamic potential of networked collaborations.” How can we better design the situations in which this can happen?

Here’s some other fun public art projects that have inspired me over the years:

Rebar’s PARK(ing) that turns urban parking spaces into temporary parks
True’s emotional subway stickers that made NYC commutes a more thoughtful affair
Natalie Jeremijenko’s Feral Robotic Dogs that sniff out chemical contamination
Eve Mosher’s High Water Line that marked NYC’s floodline with a physical chalk mark
Free Soil’s FRUIT wrappers that drop knowledge on the energy it took to deliver your orange

Read a response to Post-It Notes for Neighbors by Rachel Abrams.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.



4 Responses to “Post-it Notes for Neighbors”

  1. The bygone Yellow Arrow let people post yellow arrow-shaped stickers with unique numbered codes at places they considered important. When you dialed an SMS number and entered the code, you got an explanation of why the (rocking horse, parking meter, doorway) meant so much to one of your neighbors. Twitter can provide the platform for something similar.

  2. One of my favorite things about this project is the low-tech materiality. I think we can so easily get swept up today with the technological possibilities for urban communication and media arts, that the technical dimension supersedes the fundamental social and conceptual elements of a project. Not to say that we shouldn’t be doing all these great things today with iPhones, Twitter, etc. And, of course, I’m a fan of such projects as Yellow Arrow. But I think there is something crucial to be gained from continuing to develop low-tech projects to stay in touch with the primary objectives of such work. I wonder if even for us urban media design professionals and educators, if there isn’t a step in the creative process for these types of projects that we try to formalize where we force ourselves to beta test an idea by implementing it without using any digital technology first?

  3. Scriptopolis says:

    This is amazing. Exactly what ‘public space – or citizenship – 2.0′ should be.

  4. ANA foreign student says:

    This artistic intervention on the public realm is home to the civic spirit of a society committed to positive change of their environment.
    Under the law of the jungle, completely unprotected, visitors, students and immigrants as well as some Spanish citizens, are victims of speculation and exorbitant rents in Barcelona city.
    Vanity town is rotten from the inside; many people are living without dignity. Look on the Internet (loquo.com) so you know what you have to pay here for anything in return. Find, visit and enter the interior of the rental apartments / chambers -”pisos” – and discover how people live this “fashion city”. Conceited and pretentious cities like Barcelona should take a lesson from this.
    I invite you to critically confront the city in which I live.

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